In the wake of disasters such as the recent Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan there are always people that ask the question, “Where was God and Why didn’t God do something?” Those questions outline what theologians often call “The Problem of Evil.” It’s been said that the “Problem of Evil,” is the Achilles Heel of Christianity and whereas it might appear so at first glance, I’m convinced that is not the case. Phillip Yancey in his book, “Disappointed with God,” does a tremendous job on getting a handle on the Problem of Evil.
Yancey describes the Problem of Evil in the form of a simple little family prayer that you’ve probably heard growing up: God is great, God is good. What normally follows is: Let us thank Him for this food. But to understand the problem of evil, Yancey changes it to: God is great, God is good, and there’s evil in the world. You see, that’s really the issue of disappointment with God. That little simple family prayer is filled with four statements of truth.
The first statement is that God Is. It presupposes that there is a God who does exits. A God who is real and personal. The second statement is that God is Great. He’s a God that doesn’t just exist, but a God who is all-powerful. The third statement is that God is Good. Meaning He’s all-loving. And then the fourth statement is There’s Evil in the World. Meaning there’s pain and suffering. Bad things happen to good people.
Now it doesn’t appear at first glance that all four of those statements can be true. I mean is it possible for a God to be all-powerful and all-loving and for bad things to happen to good people? So people have put out a lot of different so called solutions by eliminating one part or another in the equation.
- One solution is just to do away with God. (Atheism) Hey if you do away with God then you don’t really have a problem, right?
- A second solution is to deny that God is great. Such a person believes in God, but they believe that God I powerless. This solution has been bought by millions of people in this culture by Harold Kushner in his book, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” Kushner knows something about suffering. His son contracted a rare disease that caused him to age prematurely and die in his teens and Kushner wrestled with anger and disappointment with God and finally concluded that God cared, He just couldn’t do anything about it. The problem is what can a weak God do for us? It does no good to bow down and worship Him. How can we follow Him? How can we trust Him? How can we depend on Him. I like what Elie Vesel wrote when he critiqued Kushner’s book, “If that’s who God is, why doesn’t He resign and let someone take His place.
- A third option is to deny that God is Good. (a scary thought) If you don’t want to deny God or His greatness…deny His goodness.
- A fourth option is just to live in self denial. Just deny that there’s a problem. This is the approach of the Christian Scientist. They say evil is just an illusion. But this view has problems as well. Like the little boy who went to his Christian Scientist Pastor and said, “Pastor, will you pray for my dad. He’s home sick.” At the pastor said, “Oh no, son. You don’t understand. Your dad just thinks he’s sick. He doesn’t have enough faith. Go home and tell him that.” So the little boy comes back the next day and the pastor asks, “How’s your dad?” And the little boy says, “He thinks he’s dead.” It’s not my intention to make fun of any one’s religion, I just want to point out the problem to such a solution. The fact of the matter is that bad things happen all around us and if your honest with yourself, you can’t deny it.
How does a Christian deal with the Problem of Evil?
1. One option is to say, “We deserve what we get.” The reason why bad things happen to good people is simple, THEY DON’T… because none of us is good. So we are all getting what we deserve. One of the principles of the universe is that we reap what we sow Galatians 6:7, but to say that everyone who died in the Earthquake and Tsunami deserved it oversimplifies the problem and is just a little too callous for my taste. The truth is sometimes people get what they don’t deserve. You can’t always draw a simple one to one correlation between cause and effect.
2. Another option is something that Philip Yancey calls “The toxic waste in the water solution.” Picture for a moment all of us standing around Medina Lake for a moment and each of us have a bucket and in that bucket is toxic waste; and imagine that that toxic waste is a picture of our sin.
Senerio one says that you will get sick if you drink from your own bucket… which makes sense. There definitely is some truth to that. If I drink from my buck of toxic waste, I’m going to get sick.
Senerio two places all of us on the edge of Medina Lake pouring our bucket of waste into the lake. Suddenly I get thirsty and decide I want a drink, but as I look down at the lake I’m like, “I’m not drinking that, I know what I put in it.” So I walk down to the other side of the lake and I take a big glass out of that lake and drink it and I get sick and suddenly I get angry, “That’s not fair! I’m not reaping the consequences of my junk. My junk is on the other side of the lake. I’m drinking your junk!”
This solution does make a little more sense out of the problem because now I realize that I may not be getting a direct payback for what I did, but the truth is I have put more than enough junk into that lake to not only kill me, but everyone else and if I get sick… I’m just getting back what I deserve in general. Someone once said, “Anything I get that is better than hell is a gift.
3. A third option is to say that Bad Things Will Become Good Things. This is the idea behind Romans 8:28
28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
This option acknowledges that things may be bad… but it has hope that over time by God’s grace, that God will make something good out of those bad things. Probably every single one of us can look back at some event in the past and see how God has taken something bad in our lives and turned it into something good. However there might be some of you that are still waiting and that’s where faith comes in. Faith that somehow, someway, when we all get to the other side of this thing called life… God will make sense out of everything that confuses us.
I’ve often said that when I walk into heaven there’s going to be a big RED MARK on my head from me slapping my forehead with the palm of my hand and saying, “Oh… NOW I get it!” The Bible says that we see in a mirror dimly, but there will come a time when we shall see clearly.
My guess that about half of you are comfortable with these three options and that’s because half of us lead with our heads. We’re thinkers and these thoughts satisfy our soul.
However the other half lead with the heart. For those that lead with their heart, the problem of evil is not so much an intellectual problem as much as it is a heart problem. It’s not so much that you need to know something, but rather you need to know someONE.
Imagine you have a toddler (mine are all teenagers… PRAY FOR ME!) and that toddler walks up and sticks his finger in an electric socket and shocks himself. The last thing that little guy needs is for someone to come up to him and try to explain the fundamentals of electricity. For one thing, he’s not likely to understand it, but even more than that what he needs is for someone to comfort him.
When it comes to the problem of evil, I am convinced that none us can completely understand the answer, but even if we could… more than an answer, we need the ANSWERer.
I use to be so bent on having an answer to every problem in the world, but I’ve now come to the point in my spiritual life that I feel that I don’t have to know the answer to everything. I’ve found that it’s enough for me just to know WHO has all the answers. I would much rather know the AnswerER! The insight is this: The answerER has come in the person of Jesus Christ.
Charles Wesley on the Cause and Cure of Earthquakes
A Christian’s Reaction to the Crisis in Japan
Japan’s Earthquake and the Will of God by Adam Hamilton
Is Adam Hamilton Right About God and Japan?
Poll: Nearly 4 in 10 Americans say Natural Disasters Sign From God (Fox News)